(FFS), a huge already-liveried box perched precariously on its hydraulic rams,
was awaiting shipping from the manufacturer's site near London Gatwick airport.
correspondent - and I were being shown the machine by its proud builders,
Thales, having first received a presentation on the global FFS marketplace. We
were briefed on how the company had come to be the chosen supplier of a simulator
to SIA, the A380's first customer airline.
"drawbridge" into the simulator. The company's hardware and software engineers
- who were still fine-tuning the massive machine and uploading the latest
Airbus flight test programme data - took a short break so we could see it
working. There we stood, behind the pilots' seats, looking at the displays -
uncluttered but pregnant with information. Our hosts seemed to be attempting to
gauge what we wanted to do: to sit passively and watch a demo, or to get
involved. But for a moment, no-one said anything.
I was mainly interested in playing with the "aeroplane" but Kevin's
face had a "what now?" look about it. In the absence of instructions, I made for
the left hand seat and motored it forward until the position felt right. Kevin
was politely offered the remaining pilot's seat and nervously took it, looking
as if he wanted to remain in observer mode.
We hadn't received any flight or technical briefing. The
daytime visual display showed we were at a relatively anonymous runway-end
holding point; but where? Changi, said Thales' A380 project engineer Alan
Bailey informatively. Of course - where else? It's SIA's home airport. But the "weather"
was gin clear - none of
normal grey skies.
position behind the centre consol, Alan provided me with the excuse to do
something by releasing the parking brake and nudging the throttles. I looked
left to see if the approach was clear - feeling as if I really ought to,
although we were not being bothered with trivia like making or receiving radio
calls - and I took the tiller to turn the aircraft right to line it up. A
glance at the compass rose display showed we were on one of the three parallel
runway 20s, though I didn't ask whether L, C, or R. With the A380's flightdeck
at a level that's not far above the main deck and well below the upper deck,
there was no sense - as there is in the 747 cockpit - of being high above the
runway. It felt so normal I didn't even think about that at the time - only now
as I write this.
asked for a rotate speed, and as an afterthought requested that the aircraft
should be loaded as if for a standard departure for
then, accompanied by a bit of highly appropriate lurching as if the
suddenly-very-heavy aircraft was settling on its oleos, the weight was duly
keyed in. I was told that rotate would be about 160kt (300km/m) with flaps one. I watched
intrigued as, on the bottom left of the primary flight display, a little
schematic showed me the slats and flaps moving to where they should be. That
took some time, but with a beast that large it's what you would expect. Alan
suggested we belt up in case of unscheduled lurches since the machine still
needed fine tuning. I suspect it also entered his head that my handling skills
were a completely unknown quantity.
pitch attitude to rotate to. She didn't feel like the massive beast she
represented, accelerating at a confident pace, and the rudder seeming effective
almost immediately. That was a relief because, as Alan admitted, the tiller
response still needed some tuning.
She rotated like aeroplanes do, and by that stage - as with
all transport aircraft - you have forgotten what's behind you and are just
flying the flight deck. I reached right - not far - and pulled the little gear
handle up, then levelled about 1,500ft because someone suggested we should turn
right and show Kevin what downtown Singapore looked like on a state-of-the-art
destinations or tracks set. But the vertical display was magic - partly because
it was the first time I had "flown" in an aeroplane which has one. However you
could easily be seduced into over-controlling by the little twitching vector
arrows appearing here and there - on the speed and altitude tapes and on the
vertical display itself, the latter adjusting your vertical vector profile
however slight the deviation from level flight.
Since I hardly ever fly now and my heritage is C-130 clockwork
cockpits, too much stuff confuses me, so I was happy with rose mode. I know
what flight management computers can do for you, but don't have the skills in
manipulating them deftly. And for me, this exercise was about finding out
whether this awesome machine is, as the manufacturer claims, just another
corrections that confused the "aeroplane" and made it lurch slightly here and
there, I got into Airbus mode: just point the thing where you want it to go and
leave it alone.
circuit I set about lining up for an approach to runway 20C. Alan had helpfully
put the autothrottle in and I forgot he had, so retarding the power levers
didn't make the difference I was expecting and I ended up hot and high. I threw
the approach away, going for a short left-hand visual circuit. This time there
was no problem. The aircraft settled nicely onto a manually flown approach. As
the runway came up to meet us we had no height call-outs because we hadn't set
them, so I just flared when it seemed right. The A380 made a civilised landing,
although I suspect it would have been a little firmer in reality than the
physical cues the simulator gave us. Directional control was easy with rudder,
but the tiller had a confusing delay on it. The thrust reversers were simple to
manipulate - only the two inboards have reverse - and the braking provided plenty
of power without snatching.
We turned off the runway. Taxiing back to the ramp was the
only difficult part of the trip, but I suspect Thales will have fixed the
tiller response by the time SIA takes delivery of its big new toy.